September 27, 2019
By Jaime Swank
Like many people, I had no idea how to find a political campaign job.
Ever since high school, I knew I wanted to do something to make a difference in the world. But even after graduating from college, I didn’t know what job title, organization, or even industry would allow me to make a difference.
So how did I get from knowing I wanted to make a difference, to a political campaign job that was a great fit for me?
Gain Canvassing Experience
In my last months of college, graduation staring me in the face, I applied for any job even marginally related to my major. I wanted to stay in the St. Louis area if possible, so I researched organizations near me. I found a part-time paid canvassing position for a pro-choice organization over the summer on the organization’s online job board. I applied right away, was interviewed, and quickly offered a position, despite having no previous canvassing experience.
This position helped me financially support myself while looking for full-time work and gave me valuable experience in persuading strangers to take action. After the grant funding for my position ended, my supervisor was able to refer me to a canvassing gig for state legislative candidates. This job helped me transition from issue-based advocacy to candidate campaign work.
Having canvassing experience, whether paid or volunteer, helps make someone a more competitive candidate for other political campaign jobs. Try looking for canvassing opportunities in your area by researching issue-based organizations, local campaigns, or campaign consulting firms. These can open the door into the type of campaign work you’re most interested in.
If you are completely new to canvassing and what you’ll do out in the field, a great place to start is our field tactics course.
Leverage Your Personal and Online Network
While canvassing and looking for a full-time campaign job, a friend forwarded me a post from our class’s Facebook group. A classmate who I didn’t know said she was working on the Missouri Democratic Coordinated Campaign in St. Louis and they were looking for a distributed organizer. I applied for the position, interviewed twice, and was offered a position – my first full-time campaign job!
Telling my friends and family that I was looking for a position where I could make a difference in the St. Louis area helped them to help me. My description was perhaps too broad. Providing the small detail of where I was looking geographically helped my network to send me relevant positions. The people you’re close to want to help you find a campaign job that’s a good fit for you. Let them help!
Joining Facebook groups and other listservs, even if they are not campaign-specific, can also help you find unexpected opportunities. Search for your high school or college alumni group, groups for your local area, and identity-specific groups, and follow them on social media.
Search for Different Types of Campaigns…
I hadn’t applied to the campaign earlier because I had no idea where they were posting their positions – I couldn’t find it anywhere on Claire McCaskill’s campaign website.
I learned coordinated campaigns work closely with candidate campaigns, but aren’t the same.
Coordinated campaigns usually work to elect all the Democratic candidates running in the state, which depending on the year and the campaign may include presidential candidates, gubernatorial candidates, senate candidates, congressional candidates, and state legislative candidates. They typically run the field program to support all the campaigns that are a part of the coordinated.
Candidate campaigns, on the other hand, work to elect their specific candidate. This includes running the other parts of the campaign, including the digital, fundraising, and communications work.
Depending on what type of position you’re interested in, you might apply for either position on a coordinated campaign or a specific candidate’s campaign. Keep in mind you may not be able to find political campaign jobs online, or the places you’d expect. Try contacting your state’s Democratic party to ask about positions on the coordinated, contacting a specific candidate’s campaign, or looking on JobsthatareLEFT.
…and Different Job Titles
I would have never searched for “distributed organizer” positions because I had never heard of that job title before.
I learned a distributed organizer is an organizer who works with volunteers who live out of state. This includes recruiting volunteers to text or call voters for the campaign remotely. Though I had never heard of the position, it ended up being a great fit for me. I love managing volunteers and talking to voters. However, I don’t love talking to a lot of people in person every single day. It also allowed me to use my writing skills and develop my tech skills.
Keep an open mind to different positions, including some you may never have heard of! Job titles may also vary from campaign to campaign. What some campaigns call a “distributed organizer,” others may call a “digital organizer” – try searching for both. Similarly, a “field organizer” on one campaign may require no previous field experience, while another may require two previous cycles, so always check the job description before deciding whether or not to apply.
The Lure of Political Campaign Jobs
I loved working a political campaign job because I loved feeling like I was making a difference by working towards re-electing an important Democratic U.S. Senator in one of the most competitive races in the country in 2018.
Though we lost the election, I know my work mobilizing volunteers helped get more people involved in the political process. If you’re called to make a difference in our society and government, but don’t know where to start, I encourage you to look for a political campaign job. Though it may sometimes be hard to find, the reward will be worth it.
NDTC Staff Academy is a great way to help you find your first political campaign communications, digital, or fundraising job. We train in the essential skills necessary to succeed in these fields, as well as essential leadership and management skills. At the end of the program, NDTC supports Staff Academy graduates in finding full-time, paid campaign jobs by facilitating introductions and interviews with our partner organizations. To learn more about Staff Academy and to be notified when applications for our 2020 cohort go live, sign up here.